Best of San Diego Ballot Captures $250K for Union Tribune

by Brian Murphy San Diego Union Tribune

Case Study Highlights

  • $250,000 in revenue – 52% YOY increase
  • 1,500 businesses listed in 177 categories
  • More than 47,000 registered users

The Idea

U-T San Diego is a 261,000 circulation (and 407,000 circulation on Sundays) newspaper in San Diego, California. We have been running our Best of San Diego Readers’ Poll for more than 18 years. Two years ago, we moved to a purely digital ballot.

The goal for the promotion is threefold:

  1. Generate incremental revenue year after year
  2. Make SDBEST a guide for customers to navigate the local marketplace
  3. Provide our audience with a way to vote on their favorite local businesses

The Execution

The Best of San Diego Readers’ Poll let people vote for their favorites among more than 1,500 businesses in 177 categories.

We created separate ballots for the nomination and voting periods. The voting ballot was populated with the top 10 nominees in each category from the write-in nomination ballot.

Before 2013, we collected print ballots in addition to online nominations and voting – it was done that way for 15 years. The resource and manpower costs to filter through thousands of handwritten nomination and voting ballots to determine winners was immense. Using new technology has now made that labor-intensive process obsolete.

The 2014 ballot was promoted heavily in print and online during both the nomination and voting phases as “share of voice” across the platform. Here’s a look at our sales sheet with the promotional packages that we offered to advertisers:


And here’s a look at the flyer we gave out to advertisers to drum up interest in participating in the promotion:


We featured run-of-site advertising during all phases of the ballot, but during the voting period ads only appeared on the landing page to avoid conflicts. Here are a few of the online ads we ran during various phases of the promotion:


The ballot launched with a nomination-phase print special section and concluded with another print special section to announce the winners. This special section is available year-round.


We also created a page listing all the winners that stays up on our site throughout the year (and our online archive list goes back to 2009):


The online ads remain on the site until the next year’s ballot is ready to launch. Here are a few of the advertisers’ ads running on


Revenue was generated in weeks before nominations began, and businesses kept the hype going online and in print during the nomination phase, the voting phase, and when winners were announced. Advertising by local businesses ranged from in-store posters to multiple freeway billboards. One advertiser even created their own window display to promote the ballot:


During both the nomination and voting periods, we created poster and table-tent templates local businesses could print out and place in their locations. These directed people to and helped drive votes.

The Results

The ballot brought in more than $250,000, and the total revenue was up 52% from the year before!

Our campaign passionately engaged the local business community and our audience loved it. In fact, 47,405 registered users cast a total of 550,526 votes during the promotion. The ballot also received more than 720,000 pageviews.

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